This blog is co-posted with The Green Book.
This interview was conducted as a series of email exchanges over the course of a few weeks; so it is a complete and accurate record of all exchanges.
I’ve been a fan of Vision Critical since 2005. They are a company that is doing an awful lot right in terms of innovation, strategic positioning, and I continue to be impressed by the exceptional quality of their team, the vision of their senior leadership, and their continual focus on innovation. They are aggressively positioning themselves to be a major player in the future market research ecosystem, and frankly I think many firms will have a hard time winning against them; their value proposition is simply far more in alignment with what clients are asking for from us.
I have never met Matt, but I am looking forward to sitting down with him at the TDMR and changing that. I certainly enjoyed our interview, and I think you will as well.
LM: Vision Critical has always excelled at making a big splash and generating a lot of interest within the market research space. Why do you think that is? How is your message more compelling than your competitors?
MK: Vision Critical has a very unique story, having been founded by the son (Andrew Reid) of a renowned Canadian market research pioneer (Angus Reid). Andrew’s expertise in online technology and design, coupled with Angus’s classic survey-based research background have lead to the development of groundbreaking research solutions that leverage technology to engage consumers in a new type of dynamic ongoing dialogue. And as Andrew says, it has also made for some interesting dinner table discussions too! Truth be told, our legacy is a bit outside the norm in terms of typical research companies, and thus we may seem to be a bit ‘different’. But frankly this is what makes us a unique partner, and why our approach to research is an ideal fit for today’s business world’..the ‘ying and yang’ of technology and research are in fact our strengths for solving the unprecedented challenges clients are facing today.
LM: What do you think are the major drivers of change in the market research space right now and how is Vision Critical planning to take advantage of those trends?
MK: In my view there is no doubt that the MR industry in 2020 will be radically different then right now. Traditional ad hoc custom research as we know it is already in decline, and I think this will be nearly extinct in its current form in a decade. The key elements driving this change are rapid advancements in technology/ social media, the speed of client business and the relentless drive to maximize efficiency. These dimensions are pushing our industry to provide more realtime solutions, scalable insight systems and dynamic interactivity with consumers on an ongoing basis (and for less investment). With that said, the constant for MR is that businesses will continue to need to know the ‘why”.the understanding and insight behind the data (which is flowing at an unprecedented pace). With our unique history of technology research innovation, Vision Critical is uniquely positioned to take advantage of these trends. Our groundbreaking Sparq Community Panel research platform, innovative virtual testing systems and dynamic online reporting deliverables are years ahead of our peers, and our researchers and technology developers possess a mindset that fosters the creative application of research and technology to meet client business objectives. Our CEO, Angus Reid, often talks about our core pillars of ‘talent’ and ‘technology’, but our strength resides less in having each, and more importantly in knowing the most effective blend of these pillars for quickly answering the research questions our clients face.
LM: I’ve been a fan of Vision Critical since 2005, especially of your Fusion product suite, and have watched your evolution with interest. It seems that the company has transitioned from a software company to a full service firm with a software division. Is that an accurate description, and if so, has it been difficult to make that change, especially in terms of your overall positioning within the industry?
MK: You are correct in that in our initial years we focused very heavily on technology and software for the research industry ‘ designed and developed in house by researchers for researchers. Our leadership was on the forefront of seeing the opportunity that technology could play in the research process, and frankly, it was not hard to also see that so many other research companies were missing the boat on this. Many of our clients during this time were still looking for full service research support and consultation however, so when we did start adding research divisions to our company (in 2006), it made sense and our clients immediately embraced this move. In terms of difficulty in making this transition, I think there were two areas in which we faced challenges. The first was merging the inherent idiosyncrasies of technology developers and researchers into a cohesive culture that leverages the respective strengths of each. And the second was getting the word out to our clients and the industry at large about the full breadth of our ‘research + technology’ capabilities and the core efficiencies and benefits this combination brings. We have made great strides in both areas, and our current solutions meet both the challenges our clients are facing today, as well as positions Vision Critical to be well suited to addressing fundamental business issues our clients will be facing in the years to come.
LM: I agree with your take on the drivers of change and vision of the future of the industry, but I’m not aware of any efforts by VisionCritical to roll-out mobile or social media solutions as part of your product offering. Can you tell me anything about your strategy as it relates to those technologies?
MK: There is no doubt that both social and mobile (and perhaps more importantly, ‘social mobile’) research solutions will be a key part of the researcher repertoire in the coming years. Our groundbreaking Sparq research platform, which blends turnkey ‘visual questions’, complex sample management and dynamic reporting is currently mobile-compatible, and also allows for seamless integration with social media monitoring. But that is just the tip of the iceberg’we have some truly industry-changing technology in the works, so stay tuned!
LM: Recently VisionCritical ranked as one of the Top 3 MR firms globally ‘perceived to be innovative’ by your peers in the industry. Obviously you’re doing a great job of creating that brand perception within the marketplace, but that also puts a lot of pressure on you to maintain that position. How do you maintain the focus on continual innovation within the organization?
MK: This goes back to our history and how we have evolved from a pure research technology boutique to a truly integrated research + technology consultancy. Quite simply, innovation is our DNA. We have scores of technology developers on staff, and maintain a rigorous and continuous innovation pipeline so that the best emerging technology is blended with our researchers’ vision of how it can be deployed to solve real client challenges. Plus, our corporate culture is very unique and reflects the varied roles and skill sets within our organization. What other research organizations have technology developers, designers, sociologists, statisticians, ethnographers, MBAs, Baysian modelers, usability experts and award winning artists on staff? This fuels a deep culture of experimentation and innovation that is truly unique in the research industry!
LM: That sounds like a wonderful culture, and in my experience you are correct in that it is one that is fairly radically different from most other research firms. Why do you think the market research industry as a whole seems to struggle with embracing business models that support innovation, especially related to human capital strategies?
MK: Great question. I think part of this stems from that idea that classic survey-based research is typically rooted in the social sciences, and as a result many of these organizations simply don’t recognize that they may need these other skill sets within their organization, or if they do, they have trouble integrating them into the traditional research process. For Vision Critical, the integration of research and technology had to be forced ‘ we made a very concerted effort to make this happen. And there were definitely growing pains along the way as we worked to find the correct balance of research and technology in how we approach clients’ business issues. I also think that we as researchers tend to think of our competitive context as only including other research companies, when in fact we are an industry that is facing competitive threats from many adjacent industries, including those that specialize in online behavioral tracking, business intelligence, social media monitoring and rich data-mining. In order to compete on these fronts, the MR industry must rapidly adapt and broaden our skill set. If is simply not good enough to be the best within MR only, we have to be able to compete outside of our industry as well given that some of these other industries are beginning to provide services that have traditionally been found within MR.
LM: What skills do you think are essential for success in the market research space today? Obviously technology acumen is one, but what else? What are the key ‘talent’ characteristics that will be vital for success for MR in the future?
MK: In additional to technology development and application, creativity, curiosity and communication skills will continue to be vital to our industry, as will business management background and solid research fundamentals. As I mentioned earlier, there are many diverse skills that will be required for the market research leaders of tomorrow to prosper, but what will really set companies apart is how they are able to blend these talents into a cohesive solution for their clients. It is that balance that will be most important, really the sum of the individual parts.
LM: I agree that market research is under increasing competitive pressure from other industries, and the recent spate of M&A activity where agencies, social media monitoring providers, and DIY tech suppliers are purchasing MR consultancies clearly show that this trend is only accelerating. Where do you think that is going and which industry do you think poses the greatest competitive threat to the traditional MR space?
MK: The biggest threat to MR is our own ‘silo’ mentality about who our competitive set is. We do not just compete with other MR firms, but also all of the other industries you mention above, as well as business intelligence and social media services in general. The sooner we as an industry acknowledge this and broaden our perspective the more competitive we will be to future threats.
LM: At the Technology Driven Market Research Event you presenting on ‘Online ‘Feeling-based’ Dial Testing ‘ A Revolutionary New Way of Understanding the Emotional Drivers of Content Appeal’; can you tell me a bit more about that and what you hope attendees will get out of it?
MK: Absolutely. We have heard from both content creators and media companies that they are increasingly looking to dig deeper into what emotional levers are driving appeal and engagement with video, advertising and promotional spots. And while traditional dial testing methods have in the past been effective at providing a ‘go/no-go’ measure, they haven’t been the best at including prescriptive diagnostics, and also tend to be costly and time consuming to execute. So we felt that by leveraging technology and advances in online research methods we could help innovate in this area. The result is ‘ReactionPlus’, a groundbreaking online content assessment tool that provides a fast and cost effective method of testing advertisements, promos and other video clips ‘ and allowing our clients to understand the feelings that are driving interest. I will be presenting case studies from 1 -2 marquee media organizations and additional VC-conducted research on research will be used to show how ReactionPlus compares to traditional dial testing and post-viewing assessment methods ‘ with the pros and cons of the various methods compared and analyzed. Results will show how this innovative tool can be employed to capture second by second reaction among broad, nationally representative sample frames, with automated reporting that includes real-time playback allowing for a consistent and easy method of interpreting the results. Attendees will see how an innovative online technology application can be employed to provide accurate and informative moment-by-moment insights into how well video content works; that feelings can be effectively captured and acted upon via a rapid online next generation dial testing technology ‘ providing prescriptive understanding of what content works best, and why; and ultimately, that radical innovation in media content evaluation is possible with creative ‘out-of-the-box thinking’, flexibility to step outside legacy metrics and the right balance of thoughtful research design and innovative technology. I am really looking forward to the session!
LM: That sounds very cool, and it will be interesting to contrast your approach to the Neuromarketing based presentations that will also be taking place at the TDMR. On that note, brands are spending a lot of money on Neuromarketing and other biometric measurement techniques to get to emotional drivers of decision making. How does ‘ReactionPlus’ compare to those approaches and/or where would it fit within the spectrum of ‘emotional measurement’ techniques?
MK: ReactionPlus relies on cognitive expression of emotion rather than precognitive biometric or neuro measurement’so we are simply asking people to tell us how they are feeling while they consume audio or video content. In some respects very similar to dial testing, but with much greater diagnostics on what feelings are most prevalent, and which are driving interest. We have already done some ‘research-on-research’ validation of how ReactionPlus compares with traditional dial testing and the results are similar but much richer in terms of analysis capabilities. We are also considering some side by side testing with biometric or neuro measurement too, but for us these are really very different methodologies. While biometrics/ neuro testing must be conducted in a central location facility and are often quite costly, ReactionPlus is an easy-to-administer online tool that allows for extremely fast data collection at low cost ‘ allowing for rapid testing, refining and retesting of a vast array of content.
LM: What’s next for Vision Critical? Where do you see the company fitting into the research ecosystem in 5 years and what?
MK: Vision Critical is committed to being a leader in the 21st century research industry through an unprecedented blend of visionary technology and critical thinking. We are the only company to have equal parts technology developers, research professionals and user engagement designers. The possibilities with these skill sets are endless, and we plan to methodically reinvent the research process one business issue at a time.
About the Author Leonard Murphy:
Lenny is a seasoned and respected industry leader with an entrepreneurial drive. He has been called a visionary and is renowned as an innovator. He has successfully established several companies in the MR space including Rockhopper Research, a leading full service global research firm and MDM Associates, a MR consulting firm, before founding his current companies: BrandScan 360 and his consulting practice LMC group (www.asklmcg.com). Mr. Murphy is a key consultant and adviser to numerous market research agencies, and works across the industry to drive the development of innovative research practices by developing strategic alliances with multiple ‘best in class’ providers. Lenny serves on the Board of The Market Research Global Alliance, the premier social network for the global MR profession. He is the Founder and Executive Director of the Research Industry Trends Monitoring Group & Publisher of the GreenBook Research Industry Trends Study, the oldest study in the industry devoted to tracking changing trends in MR. He is on the Advisory Boards of the Festival of NewMR and The Merlien Institute. He is also the Chairman of the IIR Technology Driven Market Research conference. Rounding out his busy professional life, he is the Editor in Chief of the GreenBook Blog. Lenny can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org